EducationDoes medical cannabis offer symptomatic relief for PTSD?

Does medical cannabis offer symptomatic relief for PTSD?

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Does medical cannabis offer symptomatic relief for PTSD?


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – or PTSD – is an anxiety disorder and complex psychological condition brought on by a distressing and traumatic event. Those diagnosed with PTSD often experience generalised underlying anxiety, flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares.

Studies have indicated that medical cannabis could be potentially effective in reducing the frequency of these associated symptoms by reducing activity in the amygdala – a section of the brain that manages fear and potential threats. The THC compound found in the plant is also able to bind to the brain’s endocannabinoids to potentially help relieve the emotional trauma associated with specific memories. With that said, medical cannabis should never be seen as a cure for PTSD. The currently available research is pointing to its possible efficacy as a complementary therapy option that should be administered in combination with traditional pharmaceuticals and behavioural therapy. 

In this article, we’ll explain the science behind how medicinal cannabis may help to alleviate symptoms in PTSD sufferers, as well as discuss the legal status of cannabis and its potential risks anfer symd side effects.

The relationship between cannabis and PTSD

Since medical cannabis was legalised in the UK and other countries, including the USA, Australia, and Canada, a number of studies have been conducted to investigate how it could help reduce the heavy burden that the symptoms of disorders such as PTSD and anxiety bring sufferers. 

The cannabis plant has over 110 cannabinoids, of which the most prominent are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These cannabinoids are thought to interact with our own human endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays an important role in regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, and memory among a huge range of other vital functions. Endocannabinoid receptors are found throughout the brain, including the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – as well as in our peripheral nervous system. 

Interestingly, studies have indicated that PTSD may be associated with endocannabinoid (the cannabinoids produced by our own bodies) deficiency. As a result, medical cannabis and the cannabinoids it offers may help modulate this deficiency and improve symptoms of the condition. 

Research studies on the administration of medical cannabis for PTSD

One study from a university in Detroit, UD investigated the impact of cannabis on the amygdala response of those suffering trauma-triggered anxiety. It showed that low doses of THC may improve the levels of fear and anxiety felt by individuals. 

Another study, from researchers in Brazil, looked at how cannabis could help to reduce the strength of emotion associated with traumatic memories. They found that low doses of THC, or THC and CBD combined, were able to help reduce the anxiety felt from triggering memories. As flashbacks are a challenging characteristic of PTSD, this indicates that cannabis could improve a significant symptom of the condition. 

A third 2014 study, published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, found that PTSD sufferers experienced up to a 75% decrease in their symptoms while using medical cannabis. 

The potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for PTSD

Patients suffering from PTSD may find that medical cannabis offers them the following benefits:

  • Reduction in anxiety and depression – due to its sedative nature, cannabis has been shown to relieve anxiety and stress.
  • Improvement in sleep patterns – One study indicates that THC can act on the endocannabinoid system to improve the ease at which a person falls asleep and increase their total sleep time. 
  • Reduction in flashbacks and nightmares – One study suggests that cannabis can help to relieve and reduce the amount and intensity of outbursts of traumatic memories and nightmares. 
  • Enhancement of mood and quality of life – Many find that cannabis can make them feel more relaxed and calm, as well as happier. For PTSD sufferers, this can result in a profound improvement in their quality of life. 

Types of cannabis products for PTSD

CBD vs THC: which is better?

Both CBD and THC can have positive effects on PTSD patients. However, high THC strains can be linked with increased levels of anxiety in larger doses. CBD, on the other hand, is often anxiolytic – or antianxiety – in nature. Therefore, for PTSD sufferers, CBD seems like the better choice. 

However, this is not a hard and fast rule. This area of medical cannabis research is very much still in its infancy, and so further studies are needed to better understand which type of cannabis products are best for PTSD.

Vaping, edibles, tinctures, and other forms of medical cannabis

If you receive a medical cannabis prescription, you will find a variety of options available to you in terms of products. While your prescribing doctor will be able to offer you the best advice in terms of method of administration, and dosage sizes, some of the options are described below:

  • Dry leaf – If you receive cannabis in a dry leaf form, you will need to vaporise it in order to receive the medical effects. 
  • Edibles – These contain cannabis oil and other edible ingredients. They typically come in the form of gummies or sweets. The dosage of prescription cannabis edibles is regulated. However, it takes longer to feel the effects since the edible has to pass through the digestive process to be absorbed, and the cannabinoids will not be as bioavailable as when taken through inhalation or sublingually. 
  • ​​Liquids – Also known as tinctures, these usually come in the form of sprays or drops. They can be added to food or drink or taken sublingually (under the tongue). Sublingual administration cuts out the digestive tract, leading to a higher absorption rate.
  • Pills – Like edibles, these comprise cannabis oil and are taken orally. The dosage is regulated and clearly stated and they’re easy to administer. However, they are typically the most expensive form of the drug. 

Dosage and administration

The right dosage and form of cannabis will vary for each PTSD sufferer and their unique physiology. It’s recommended that anyone seek medical cannabis to treat a condition discusses the dose and administration with their doctor. Typically, you will start off with a low dosage and increase as necessary. 

Legal considerations

Cannabis is a Class B drug and it is illegal to possess, grow, or sell the plant in the UK. If you’re found with it in your possession and you don’t have a prescription, you may be issued either a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90.

However, if you are prescribed cannabis by your doctor and are consuming medical cannabis, you are not in violation of the law. 

In most cases, a medical cannabis prescription can only be obtained through private healthcare. If this is an unaffordable option for you and you choose to buy it from the illicit market to treat your condition, carrying a Releaf UK Medical Cannabis Card can help to protect you against legal repercussions. 

Potential risks and side effects of medical cannabis

While cannabis can be a huge help to those suffering from PTSD, it is not without its risks and side effects. Some of these are listed below:

  • Addiction and dependency – while many believe cannabis carries a low risk of this, there is still the potential to develop a dependency on the medicine.
  • Impairment in cognitive and motor skills – cannabis consumption can lead to confusion, fatigue and an impaired ability to concentrate and form new memories.
  • Increased anxiety and panic levels – High doses of THC are known to have the ability to trigger anxiety and panic attacks in some people.
  • Increased heart rate – cannabis can increase the heart rate temporarily, which could be an issue for those with existing cardiovascular conditions. 
  • Negative pharmaceutical medication interactions – Cannabis has the potential to interact with certain pharmaceuticals, including antidepressants and benzodiazepines.

The legal status of cannabis in the UK is changing as more research comes to light showing it can be an effective alternative medicine for long-term conditions such as PTSD. However, any decision to take medicinal cannabis should always be discussed with a doctor and fully understood before taking it. As with all medical treatments, there are potential risks and side effects that must be taken into consideration when looking at adding medical cannabis into any treatment regime.

Final thoughts

Medical cannabis may prove to be beneficial to PTSD sufferers who are looking for alternative treatments for their condition. However, it is essential that all patients do their research into the potential risks and side effects of using cannabis, as well as any possible drug interactions before considering it. Any decision to take medicinal cannabis should be discussed with a doctor first. Additionally, anyone caught in possession of the plant without permission could face legal repercussions.

In order for patients to find relief, they must understand their rights and how to get access to the appropriate treatments safely. By exploring the options out there and having informed discussions with their GP, PTSD sufferers can find the best solutions for their individual needs.

It is not advisable to self-medicate without professional advice. However, if cannabis is prescribed, patients should be aware of potential risks and side effects, as well as possible drug interactions. Patients should also understand their legal rights.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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